Highlights of the 2022 Lancet report on health and climate change
The 2022 Lancet Countdown report, themed “health at the mercy of fossil fuels,” was issued on October 23, 2022. The report concludes that due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and a persistent global overdependence on fossil fuel, climate change has escalated, “increasingly affecting the foundations of human health and wellbeing, exacerbating the vulnerability of the world’s populations to concurrent health threats.”1
The Lancet Countdown, published annually since 2015, is dedicated to independently assessing the effects of climate change on global health through international, multidisciplinary collaboration. The organization tracks 43 indicators across five key domains: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.2
The report is the result of a collaboration of 99 experts from 51 institutions and UN agencies, including the World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and European Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to the peer-reviewed Lancet Countdown, the organization also publishes papers throughout the year related to country-wide analyses of the Countdown indicators.
Key findings of the 2022 Lancet Countdown1
- During 2021 and 2022, extreme weather events occurring across every continent added further pressure to health care systems already experiencing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Climate change is increasingly affecting global food supplies, accounting for an estimated 98 million more people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 than the average in 1981–2010. The effects of the changes in climate have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and other interconnected crises.
- Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, global health systems have been weakened and have had decreasing funds available to respond to climate changes.
- The energy sector is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and with a 59% increase in energy demand, total emissions in 2021 reached a record high level. This is expected to increase further as countries seek alternatives to Russian fossil fuels in the wake of the war in Ukraine, which has led some countries to return to coal use.
- The adoption of renewable energy sources has been slow. Renewable energies currently account for only 2.2% of the global energy supply.
- Millions of households lack access to reliable and clean energy sources, which has led to the use of traditional biomass as a domestic energy source, supplying up to 31% of the domestic energy consumed globally, 96% in countries with a low human development index (HDI). For the populations in 62 analyzed countries, the small particulate matter in household air exceeded the WHO safe guidelines by 30-fold.
- “Simultaneously, oil and gas companies are registering record profits, while their production strategies continue to undermine people’s lives and wellbeing.”1 The largest gas and oil companies are still exceeding emission guidelines, and some governments are even subsidizing the use of fossil fuels.
- Wealthier countries have failed to meet their funding commitment to support climate action in less developed countries. In addition, the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of global instability further threaten the willingness of these countries to allocate the required funds.
- The world is currently facing concurrent crises—climate change, COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturns, global instability, among others. Responding to one of these situations risks the worsening of another. “In this pivotal moment, a health-centered response to the current crises would still provide the opportunity for a low-carbon, resilient future, which not only avoids the health harms of accelerated climate change, but also delivers improved health and well-being through the associated co-benefits of climate action.”1
- Despite all these negative outcomes, there are some positive glimmers. Individual engagement in the health aspects of climate change has increased. More countries are focusing on the links between climate change and health. At the local level, a greater number of city officials are identifying the risks that climate change has on the health of their populations.
- Countries are attempting to decrease their dependence on Russian oil by focusing more research and development on renewable energy sources.
The Lancet Countdown and climate justice
One of the themes running through this report is the imbalance in the effects of climate change on health. The lack of climate justice, the theme of International Open Access Week 2022, can be seen in almost all aspects of the Lancet Countdown. For example:
- The increase in temperature and the resulting rise in the number of heatwaves affect vulnerable populations—children younger than 1 year and adults older than 65 – much more than they affect the rest of the population. Heat-related mortality for adults older than 65 increased approximately 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21.
- Although food supplies are causing concern worldwide, “less-educated and lower-income households have an increased chance of experiencing food insecurity, and due to social roles and reduced land ownership, women, and the households they lead, might be more prone to malnutrition.”1
- High-HDI countries were the biggest contributors to production-based and consumption-based emissions; however, low-HDI counties accounted for the highest small-particulate emissions, due to poor air quality control measures and the use of higher polluting fuel.
Next steps for policymakers and researchers
The Lancet Countdown Report included several positive trends that will need to be continued and expanded if we are to move toward a healthier future. Renewable electricity generation and electric vehicle use reached record growths, and employment and investments in the clean energy industry are slowly increasing. In addition, engagement in health and climate change by the media, scientific community, corporations, and political leaders is increasing.
The world is experiencing numerous concurrent crises that are putting pressure on attempts to mitigate global climate change and the resulting health implications. The response to these crises needs to have human health at the center to ensure a safer and healthier future for all.
1. Romanello, M. et al. The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels. 2022. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01540-9
2. Lancet. The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change. https://www.thelancet.com/countdown-health-climate/about
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